Well, Devils hockey was back tonight after a five-day layoff. That’s the good news, the bad news is that despite Jack Hughes’ three-point night, Sami Vatanen’s two-point night and outshooting them 35-17, the Devils lost to the Arizona Coyotes 5-3.
Some roster notes to get to first, as Connor Carrick got injured (upper body) at practice yesterday and was placed on injured reserve. Will Butcher came off of IR but (he was only out for the Vancouver game with his upper body injury) but did not play tonight. Nico Hischier also returned after missing a handful of games.
In addition to Butcher, the two Jespers, Bratt and Boqvist, were the healthy scratches tonight. Coach John Hynes shuffled the lines up a little bit, moving Hughes to center a line with Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri as the top unit. Nico was shifted down to play with Pavel Zacha and Nikita Gusev.
Today was the 12th anniversary of the opening of the Prudential Center and the Devils were trying to win three straight for the first time since December of 2018 as well. The Coyotes came in with a decent record of 5-3-1 to begin the season and they would spoil the party at the Rock.
The game began with Damon Severson making a good play on an Arizona 2-on-1. He went down to block the pass and was able to time it perfectly, breaking up the play.
Arizona goalie Antti Raanta was great all night, keeping the Yotes in the game when the Devils were really pressuring. After Hughes missed an open net midway through the first (an Arizona player got a stick on the puck), Wayne Simmonds – who is really having a rough go of things points-wise – was stopped point-blank by Raanta.
The Devils did take the 1-0 lead at the 16:29 mark of the first when PK Subban made an impressive diving play to keep the puck in the Coyotes’ zone. Subban got the puck to Hughes at the near half wall. He then passed it across to Vatanen, who shot and it deflected in off of a Coyotes player. It was the first point of the night for both Vatanen and Hughes, who had multi-point nights.
The Devils doubled up their lead at the 18:26 mark of the first when Hughes notched his second NHL goal and first power play goal. It was set up when Oliver Ekman-Larsson was called for hooking Hischier and the Devils went on the power play. On this one, Vatanen took the puck just inside the Coyotes’ blueline and dished off to Taylor Hall. Hall then found a nice seam cross-ice to Hughes, who snapped the shot by Raanta to make it 2-0.
But as has been a problem for the Devils this year so far, they would give up a goal in the final seconds of the period. Nick Schmaltz made it 2-1 with just 16 seconds to go in the first period. Arizona was able to funnel the puck to Schmaltz, who was camped out in the high slot. He fired and beat Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood to get Arizona within one. For Blackwood, this goal ended 97:21 of shutout hockey. Ekman-Larsson and Jason Demers had the assists on the goal.
The Devils would give up a shorthanded goal to one of the best in the business just 2:01 into the second to tie the game at two apiece. Arizona was killing a Carl Soderberg tripping penalty when Michael Grabner got by PK Subban at the Yotes blueline and was off to the races. He went forehand-backhand to beat Blackwood and had his 22nd career shorthanded goal. Demers had the lone assist on this one.
The Devils would retake the lead at 13:07 of the second when Matt Tennyson dug the puck out of the near corner in the Devils’ zone. He backhanded it to Hughes who sent a stretch pass to Pavel Zacha, who was streaking through the neutral zone. Zacha fired the puck by Raanta to give the Devils back the 3-2 lead.
But before that goal could even be announced to the crowd, the Coyotes responded.
Thirty-one seconds after the Zacha goal, Ekman-Larsson snapped a puck by Blackwood after the Devils failed to clear the zone. Lawson Crouse had the lone assist. The game was again knotted, this time at three.
Then things got worse, just 1:45 into the third, Barrett Hayton notched his first career NHL goal when Schmaltz broke into the Devils’ zone and dropped to the trailing Hayton. Hayton fired by Blackwood to score the eventual game winning goal. It was now 4-3.
A critical play late in the period as Tennyson hit the post on a one-time attempt led to the Devils pulling Blackwood with 1:57 to go. Clayton Keller added an empty net goal (assists to Phil Kessel and Demers had the assists – giving Demers his third helper of the night). That gave us our final of 5-3.
The Devils played a good game, especially that first period, but just let Arizona hang around. The Devils were 1-for-5 on the power play with 11 shots and had one shorthanded shot. They kept the Coyotes 0-for-3 with the man advantage, limiting them to not a shot. Arizona did have the one shorthanded shot, which Grabner scored on. Blackwood stopped 12 of the 16shots that he saw for a .750 save percentage. The Yotes had the extra shot into the empty net. Raanta was 32-for-35 for a .914 save percentage.
The Devils got back on track in the faceoff circle, winning 53-percent of the game’s draws. They were outhit 23 to 14, had eight blocked shots to Arizona’s 12 and had more giveaways at seven to the Coyotes’ five.
Subban led all Devils skaters in ice time with 25:22 (1:28 on the power play and 57 seconds on the PK) while Hall led the forwards with 21:07 (4:12 on the PP). Hughes led in points with his three (a goal and two assists) and Simmonds led in shots with five. Hits were led by Hall, John Hayden, Simmonds and Severson with two each. Blocked shots were led by Andy Greene with two and takeaways were led by Hall and Greene with two apiece.
So, following that, the Devils will have another four days off as they gear up for the Tampa Bay Lightning next Wednesday, October 30. We will see you then with coverage of that game.